China’s Drivers

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jul 20, 2010    •    670 Views

Peter Hessler’s Country Driving A Journey Through China From Farm To Factory takes the reader to China’s roads, villages, and factories. Having just completed the first half of the book, I wanted to share random fascinating facts that relate to their transportation infrastructure

  1. Many provincial roads in China do not have a name. When Hessler asked how you know where you are, he was told that sometimes there are signs naming a nearby town. Otherwise, you just ask.
  2. “Chaff crops” such as millet, wheat, and sorghum are placed in the middle of roads for drivers to “thresh” them. He called it a “drive-through harvest”.
  3. With considerable road building and a growing number of drivers, national law mandates every Chinese driver to takes 58 hours of driving practice through a state approved course.
  4. Until 1945 when they switched (because of a US Army suggestion) the Chinese drove on the left side of the road.
  5. Although the legal driving age is 18, most people do not drive until their 30s because they cannot afford it.
  6. Price controls keep gas cheap. In 2002, across China, the price was the equivalent of $1.20 a gallon.
  7. “Gas station girls,” in their teens, who left small villages, were the attendants who pumped gas in western China.
  8. In Beijing, people can sell their cars in huge lots where they paid 25 cents an hour in exchange for being able to solicit buyers. A typical sign might have read “2003 model, one owner. All registration legal.” One women was observed saying, “December, 1998” when asked about her car’s age.
  9. Xiali is a popular Chinese carmaker.

The Economic Lesson

Within China and between China and its neighbors, China’s transportation infrastructure is expanding geometrically. Comparable in some ways to the U.S. during the 19th century, China’s new roads will facilitate specialization, urbanization, and efficiency.

Margaret Thatcher once said, “You and I travel by rail and road. Economists travel by infrastructure.



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